Even a superstar female politician sometimes has to wonder whether her gender hinders her. For the first time, Michele Bachmann has overtly begun to reference her sex as a potential obstacle to press favor and public attention. CNN’s Political Ticker reports:
Michele Bachmann, the only woman running for the Republican presidential nomination, questioned Monday whether sexism was a factor in her treatment at the debates and falling poll numbers.
“Sometimes you wonder about that,” Bachmann said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. “I have no way of knowing.”
After the last presidential debate, held in South Carolina on Nov. 12 and co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, Bachmann cried media bias and blasted out an email chain that showed CBS News political director John Dickerson expected Bachmann to receive fewer questions than other candidates.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman. I have no idea. I know they deliberately chose not to do it,” Bachmann said. …
“It’s unusual to have a woman candidate. We’ve never had a woman on the Republican ticket running for president at this level before,” Bachmann said. “So I think it’s time to let a woman speak.”
CBS credibly responded that she received less attention because she’s not polling particularly well at the moment.
These comments might be the most direct Bachmann has yet uttered about the fact that’s she’s a female — but they hardly mark the first time she’s made a point to emphasize her personal traits alongside her ideas. In fact, so far, my biggest beef against Bachmann has been her seemingly incessant need to prop herself up as a person.
As far back as the New Hampshire debate, when she “rocked” the stage, she mentioned her remarkable foster-mother feats a few more times than was comfortable. Ever since she won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, she’s repeatedly reminded voters she was the first woman to win it. Most recently, she made the preposterous claim that she has made no gaffes. Not one of her missteps was so memorable as that proclamation of perfection. Why the need to say it and revive the memory of her previous misspoken remarks?
Perhaps we could conclude that Bachmann, like any of the candidates (and any of us!), has her share of insecurities and seeks to reassure herself by quicklisting her accomplishments at every turn. Perhaps we could conclude that Bachmann’s professional accomplishments are not particularly suited to serve as impressive credentials for a presidential bid (back to that “lack of record” bit again). But perhaps we could also conclude that, somewhere along the way, Bachmann subconsciously picked up her self-promotion gambit as a way of attempting to compete with men.
According to Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, “research and experience consistently point to a fundamental and powerful distinction between the sexes: Men focus on achievement, women focus on relationships.” If Bachmann is like many women, she probably naturally veers toward relationship-building. That’s a valuable skill — in campaigning and politics, too — but it’s not necessarily appreciated in and of itself in politics. That is, in politics, relationship-building is a means to an end (usually a means to a vote). It’s not the end, as it is for many women. So maybe Bachmann learned to tout achievement because she saw it was what was most highly valued in the political world, still a man’s world despite the increasing number of female legislators and executives at the local, state and national levels.
But what’s funny about it is that spoken self-promotion — “It’s time to let a woman speak” — is still an arguably relational approach to achievement. In other words, it’s still not achievement itself.
Bachmann’s best bet would be to drop the self-promotion that doesn’t substitute for meaningful experience and accomplishment and either (a) admit she lacks executive experience but outline clearly what specific steps she has taken to prepare herself to assume executive power or (b) enter a different race at some point that would enable her to acquire the experience she lacks and run for president again sometime in the future.
Given her lack of traction at this point, (a) probably wouldn’t do her much good. But because I think she’s right on almost all the issues, I sincerely hope she’ll consider (b). I’d hate to see a premature presidential bid end her time on the national stage.